Michigan City Turns off the Lights

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November 3, 2011; Source: Washington PostWhen the sun goes down in Highland Park, Michigan, the streetlights don’t come on, because—well—two-thirds of them have been removed. In an effort to save money, cash-strapped Highland Park has taken one of the most stark austerity measures yet by opting out of lighting the streets.

This, of course, puts those who work at night and depend upon public transportation at a particular disadvantage, as they are forced to wait in deep darkness.

Highland Park is in tough financial shape, with, as it is described here, a population of 12,000—half of what it was ten years ago. It is also $58 million in debt, and the streetlights were costing the city $60,000 a month on a bill that had built up to $4 million over about a decade. DTE Energy says that it had been hesitant about turning the lights off for nonpayment because of the public safety issue, but now it appears that it has written off the debt.

This is a stark reminder of the degree to which the basic infrastructure of some communities is threatened by the extended recession. Will it be a sign of things to come?—Ruth McCambridge